Environment News Service

AmeriScan: August 24, 1999

SYNTHETIC SLUDGE HELPS SCIENTISTS COPE WITH RADIOACTIVE WASTE

"Nonradioactive representations of screamingly radioactive materials" that are safer and cheaper than the real thing may help scientists test nuclear waste storage tanks, says Jim Krumhansl, a researcher at the DOE’s Sandia National Laboratory. Krumhansl has created synthetic sludge, a product which mimics the toxic sludge found in underground nuclear waste storage tanks. Sludge sticks to the walls of tanks and could serve as a long term source of radioactive contamination in the environment. "When the tanks are emptied, some of the sludge won't budge," says Krumhansl. "The tanks will be sluiced, sloshed and squirted, but people won't be sent inside to clean them up." Many of these materials are so radioactive that working with them requires extreme measures to protect the health of researchers. Nonradioactive synthetic sludges can be handled without danger by lab workers attempting to quantify how much radioactive material sludges will store or release, and for how long. This should permit cheaper decommissioning of some tanks at a cost of $10 million each, rather than "worst case" disposal, with maximum safeguards for every tank, of $65 million each. There are approximately 180 such tanks on DOE’s Hanford Reservation in Washington State alone. Krumhansl’s work, a joint project of Sandia National Laboratories, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Colorado, was reported Monday at the American Chemical Society meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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